Standard medication is usually effective for acute migraine relief, but there are other steps you can take — under the supervision of your doctor — that may help ease pain.
Complementary therapies are add-on therapies meant to be used along with traditional treatment, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Massage, spinal manipulation, and acupuncture are examples of complementary therapies that may be beneficial for people with migraines.
“Migraines can be a sign of underlying imbalance,” says Starr Ramson, ND, a naturopathic doctor with the Nourish Medical Center in San Diego. “Often, this is due to subtle changes in hormones, inflammatory mediators, and nutritional deficiencies — all of which can be addressed by complementary therapies. In other cases, there may be an underlying disease state that must be diagnosed and treated appropriately.”
However, this latter point underlines the importance of talking with your doctor before trying any of these therapies, Ramson adds. In addition, there are some considerations such as cost — they’re not always covered by insurance — and the immediacy of your pain, she notes. And, complementary therapies also may take a few months to provide relief.
Still, when performed safely by licensed practitioners and under the supervision of your doctor, these complementary therapies may offer safe ways to help tame your migraine pain:
Acupuncture This ancient Chinese therapy involves a trained acupuncturist inserting very fine needles in specific points in your skin, according to the NCCIH. Many studies have examined the impact of acupuncture on migraines, and some research suggests that acupuncture modulates the central nervous system’s interpretation of pain, Ramson explains. According to a review of research, published in 2016 by Cochrane, six sessions of acupuncture can be effective for treating migraine. In general, it’s a safe option with long-lasting results, but needles aren’t for everyone and, overall, studies assessing the effectiveness of acupuncture across all pain conditions have yielded mixed results.
Biofeedback Stress is a common migraine trigger, and biofeedback can be especially powerful in managing migraines brought on by stress, Ramson says. In biofeedback, electrodes are placed on your skin to measure your heart rate, brain waves, and muscle tone, feeding the results to a monitor. The findings can help you better understand your physiological response to stress; working with your doctor and your care team, you can then learn ways to self-regulate, Ramson explains.
Tension in the muscles of the face, neck, or scalp can put pressure on your nerves and affect blood flow, Ramson says. Massage can help reduce that tension
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